Five submarines are under construction now at a sprawling 540,000-square-meter (135-acre) complex in Itaguai, south of Rio de Janeiro, including one equipped with an atomic reactor. These new subs are going to be responsible for patrolling the country’s extensive coast.
Brazil has become the world’s largest offshore market, and it is seeking alternatives to protect its natural resources. The oil fields off the Brazilian coast can make it one of the world’s major petroleum exporters. Brazil’s navy says the conventional submarines will patrol ports and other strategic points along the country’s 8,500-kilometer (5,300-miles) coast. The nuclear sub will patrol farther away, around the country’s “pre-salt” deep-water oil reserves — estimated at up to 35 billion barrels — and the so-called Blue Amazon, a biodiverse area off the coast with minerals including gold, manganese and limestone.
“The nuclear-propelled submarine is one of the weapons with the greatest power of dissuasion,” said Gilberto Max Roffe Hirshfeld, general coordinator of the $10-billion project, adding that “the new submarines aim to protect those resources. It’s our responsibility to have strong armed forces. Not to make war, but to avoid war. So that no one tries to take away our riches.”
Collaboration with France
The new submarines will replace Brazil’s aging fleet of five conventional subs. The project is a joint venture between the Brazilian navy, the construction firm Odebrecht and the French state defense firm DCNS.
DCNS is providing building materials and training, including the interface, operation and maintenance technology, whilst Brazil builds up its own submarine industry. Nuclebrás Equipamentos Pesados S.A. (Nuclep) is responsible for the technology to be used in the construction of the project’s nuclear reactor, which is being developed in Sao Paulo, also developing the nuclear reactor and enriched uranium. Prior to that, Brazil had only built such submarines, but now the country has the capacity to project them as well.
The first submarine, a conventional sub called SBR1,is scheduled to launch in 2017. The second is in the early stages of construction and is due to launch in 2019. Moreover, work on the nuclear sub (SNBR) is supposed to start in 2017, with a launch target of 2025, the year of the project wrap-up.
When complete, the nuclear submarine will measure 100 meters long and weigh 6,000 tons. Its conventional cousins will be slightly smaller, at 75 meters and 2,000 tons.
Currently only the permanent members of the UN Security Council (i.e. UK, China, France, Russia and the USA) design and build their own nuclear submarines, in addition to India, which has one completed and another one under construction. This will put Brazil in better conditions to negotiate a seat in the Security Council.
Unlike conventional submarines, which run on electric or diesel engines and have to resurface every 12 to 24 hours to refuel, nuclear submarines run on atomic power and generate oxygen, thus they can stay immersed indefinitely. They can also be outfitted to launch nuclear warheads — though under Brazil’s constitution and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the country is barred from developing atomic weapons. Its five new submarines will be equipped with conventional torpedoes.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Brazil had one of the world’s 15 largest defense budgets in 2013, at $31.5 billion.
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